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Iodine is an essential element that enables the thyroid gland to produce ample amount of thyroid hormones. The normal thyroid requirement for an adult is 150 micrograms per day.

What is Iodine deficiency?

The human body is incapable of synthesizing iodine; hence we need to rely on the dietary supplements for ample iodine. Iodine is naturally available in seawater and soil and is present in many of the dietary ingredients such as cheese, cow’s milk, and eggs. Iodized salts that contain iodine are also available. Insufficient amount of dietary iodine intake results in iodine deficiency.

Decreased iodine levels in the body in turn results in decreased production of thyroid hormones. Thus, iodine deficiency can lead to enlargement of the thyroid (condition referred to as goiter), hypothyroidism, and to mental retardation (in infants and children of those mothers who were not taking the adequate amount of iodine prescribed to them during pregnancy).

It has been noted that in many parts of the world people still do not consume the necessary amount of iodine required for the body and thus iodine deficiency continues to be an important public health problem globally. It is estimated that approximately 40% of the world’s population remain at risk for iodine deficiency.

What are the effects of iodine deficiency?

When the body becomes iodine-deficient the consequences can affect a person both physically and mentally. Consequences of iodine deficiency are directly related to its effect on the thyroid, which are as follows:

Hypothyroidism: As the body’s iodine levels deplete, the ability of the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones decreases and hypothyroidism develops. It has been reported that iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism worldwide.

Goiter: Decreased iodine levels in the body for a long period of time results in enlargement of the thyroid gland and this condition is referred to as goiter. The thyroid gland tends to compensate for decreased production of hormones by increasing the number of cells within the thyroid gland. Nodules can develop within a goiter and individuals with goiter may experience symptoms of choking, especially when lying down, and difficulty swallowing and breathing.

Pregnancy-related problems: Iodine is very important for pregnant or nursing mothers. Severe iodine deficiency in the mother may lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and abnormalities in the unborn babies. A child born to a mother whose thyroid levels were severely reduced during pregnancy has higher chances of undergoing mental and growth retardation. The child may also be affected with hearing, and speech related problems. Congenital hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency during pregnancy is considered as the most common preventable cause of mental retardation in the world.

Hypothyroidism - definition, signs and symptoms

‘Hypo’ means ‘under’ or ‘insufficient’; hypothyroidism is a clinical condition representing an underactive or abnormal functioning of the thyroid gland. In this condition, the thyroid gland fails to synthesize adequate amount of thyroid hormones; these hormones are essential to maintain the normal activity of the body, deficiency of which leads to various other clinical conditions. Common causes of hypothyroidism are iodine deficiency, autoimmune disorders, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, administration of some medicines and radiation treatment.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is characterized by a wide variety of signs and symptoms as the thyroid hormones are considered necessary for innumerable processes occurring in our body. The major clinical signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism include: tiredness, lethargy, dry skin, cold extremities, loss of hair, decreased memory, difficulty concentration, constipation, facial puffiness, difficulty in breathing, hoarse voice, weight gain, decrease in appetite, abnormal skin sensations, swelling in the hands and legs, abnormal menstruation, hearing impairment, and abnormally slow heartbeats (bradycardia).

Untreated childhood hypothyroidism is characterized by underdevelopment. This may include a delay in the development of teeth and brain, loss of memory, delayed puberty or sexual maturity, poor concentration in studies etc.

Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed by the physician depending on the past medical history. The doctor should be consulted:

  • about changes in the health that suggest that the body is slowing down;
  • if a person has ever had thyroid surgery;
  • if a person has ever had radiation to his/her neck to treat cancer;
  • if a person is taking any medicines that can cause hypothyroidism— common ones include, amiodarone, lithium, interferon alpha, interleukin- 2, and thalidomide;
  • whether anybody in the family has thyroid disease.

How is Iodine Deficiency Treated?

There are no tests to confirm the presence of sufficient amount of iodine in the body. When iodine deficiency is observed in the entire population, it is best managed by ensuring that the diet consumed contain adequate amount of iodine. Pregnant women should be more careful as mild deficiency may affect the physical and mental development of the infant. It is advised to all pregnant and breastfeeding women to take multivitamins containing at least 150 micrograms of iodine per day to prevent further complications.

Read More: Hypothyroidism and the weight battle

How is Hypothyroidism Treated?

The treatment of hypothyroidism aims at maintaining the thyroid hormones, at normal levels, which can be achieved by the administration of medications such as levothyroxine. There is no cure for hypothyroidism; however, this can be completely controlled in almost every affected individual. It is treated by replacing the amount of hormone that the thyroid gland can no longer maintain to normal levels. Hence even in impaired activity of the thyroid gland, replacement of thyroid hormones helps in maintaining the normal thyroid activity in the body and hence retains normal body function.

Follow-up visit

The individuals with iodine deficiency or hypothyroidism will have to have to get their thyroid hormone levels checked at periodic intervals. In case of pregnant woman, she will have to undergo these tests more frequently. The aim of the treatment is to keep the thyroid hormones in the normal range.

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